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The Danish biker and the trail that led to al Qaeda's most wanted

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, CNN
updated 8:42 PM EDT, Wed October 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has published details of Storm's story
  • U.S. officials maintain a separate intelligence stream led them to Awlaki
  • Storm led a life of many parts -- committed jihadist, family man and sports enthusiast
  • He says Awlaki was his mentor, but he became a double agent

(CNN) -- A 36-year-old Dane called Morten Storm says he was the man who led the CIA to Anwar al Awlaki, the al Qaeda cleric killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last year. And he says he did it with a computer thumb-drive that secretly contained a tracking device.

Among the evidence he's produced: recorded telephone conversations, passport stamps showing multiple trips to Yemen, correspondence with Awlaki, and a recording of a conversation with an unidentified American - who acknowledges his role in the pursuit of Awlaki.

Read more: Anwar al-Awlaki: al Qaeda's rock star no more

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has published details of his story over the past few days, after reviewing documents and tapes of the conversations Storm provided. The Danish Intelligence Service PET won't confirm or deny Storm's account; CNN has yet to reach American officials for comment.

Storm appears to have led a life of many parts -- committed jihadist, family man and outdoor sports enthusiast.

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In fact, he helped run a UK-based enterprise called Storm Outdoors -- on which his instructor's profile speaks of his time "living with the Beduins in the Deserts in the North of Yemen."

Read more: U.S. drone killing of American al-Awlaki prompts legal, moral debate

There is firm evidence that Storm, a former biker and petty criminal, moved within jihadist circles after converting to Islam in the late 1990s -- becoming known as Murad Storm.

One video clearly shows him at a rally of militant Islamists in London in 2005, listening to a speech by the extremist preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed. According to Jyllands-Posten, Storm was by then on the radar of the PET because of his links with Islamist militants.

The following year, he says, he changed sides, becoming a double-agent run by the PET.

Meeting Awlaki

According to Storm's account, he first met Anwar al Awlaki at his father's house in 2006, while studying in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Storm was attending Al Iman University -- which was renowned for militancy and where Awlaki himself taught.

"We talked freely to each other," Storm told Jyllands-Posten.

Read more: U.S. officials warn of possible retaliation after al Qaeda cleric is killed

That was before Awlaki was arrested and spent some 17 months in a Yemeni jail, accused in connection with an al Qaeda plot.

We also discussed the terrorist attacks. He had some plans that would hit large shopping centers in the West or elsewhere with many people with poison attacks.
Morten Storm

It was while Awlaki was in jail that Storm says he underwent a transformation.

At some point in the winter of 2006, Storm approached the PET and offered his services. He says he was introduced to British intelligence and the CIA, and was a given a handler by PET. Jyllands-Posten says it has confirmed the identity of that handler.

Read more: FBI official: Hasan should have been asked about e-mails with radical cleric

Storm told the newspaper that the CIA and PET "knew that Anwar saw me as his friend and confidant. They knew that I could reach him, and find out where he stayed."

When Awlaki was released from prison Storm was able "to bring materials and electronic equipment to him," using money provided by Danish intelligence.

Al Qaeda's shopping list

Storm says the CIA wanted to plant a tracking device in the equipment he was taking to Yemen, but it was becoming more difficult to reach Awlaki, who by 2009 was in hiding in remote Shabwa province.

Storm's last meeting with the militant cleric - by now perhaps al Qaeda's most influential propagandist - was in September 2009, he told Jyllans-Posten. Storm stayed at the house of an al Qaeda sympathizer.

At a desert hide-out, Awlaki asked Storm to acquire solar panels or a transportable fridge which could be used for cooling explosives components.

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"We also discussed the terrorist attacks. He had some plans that would hit large shopping centers in the West or elsewhere with many people with poison attacks," according to Storm's account.

Storm's passport includes an exit stamp from Yemen dated September 19, 2009.

A few weeks after he returned to Copenhagen, Storm says he met CIA and PET officials.

Read more: Al Qaeda cell leader killed in family dispute

He was shown satellite photographs of the area where he had met Awlaki and identified the house where he had stayed.

A short time later, Yemeni forces launched an assault on the house, killing its owner.

But Awlaki had gone.

Jyllands-Posten is in possession of an e-mail purportedly from Awlaki to Storm, dated January 17, 2010.

"Do you remember the guy you lived with? It is now confirmed that he has been killed," the cleric wrote.

The newspaper says it also has taped telephone conversations between Storm and PET agents.

The USB gambit

According to Storm, it was more than a year before another attempt was made to track down Awlaki.

Storm recounts a two-day meeting in April 2011 with PET agents at a hotel in Helsingor, overlooking the Baltic Sea. It was decided it would be too dangerous for Storm to return to try to meet Awlaki, but he would travel to the Yemeni capital and then send a USB stick to Awlaki via a messenger.

Read more: From the grave, al-Awlaki calls for bio-chem attacks on the U.S.

Before leaving, he sent a message to the editors of "Inspire," the online magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), using the codename Awlaki had given him - "Polar Bear."

In June 2011, he made a five-day visit to Sanaa, followed by a longer one in July.

Storm says he was given three rendezvous on different days - one of them at a KFC in Sanaa.

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He was my mentor. He was my sheikh, he was my teacher, he was a friend of mine. But (because) of the evil in him, I took the step.
Morten Storm

It was a typical precaution on the part of Awlaki and al Qaeda.

At the third location, the messenger passed him a list from Awlaki of what he needed.

The USB stick, with encrypted messages, became their means of communication.

At one point, Awlaki asked what was being reported in the West about alleged plans by AQAP to use the poison ricin.

At about the same time, the New York Times reported: "American counterterrorism officials are increasingly concerned that the most dangerous regional arm of Al Qaeda is trying to produce the lethal poison ricin, to be packed around small explosives for attacks against the United States."

One typed message from Awlaki included a personal request, perhaps illustrating the close relationship the two had forged.

"My wife needs some stuff from Sanaa so can your wife buy it for her?" he asked.

Read more: State Department calls family of American killed in drone strike

Storm says he was recalled to Europe in August 2011, and met with both CIA agents and PET officials in Malaga, Spain.

He claims he was told by "the American" that there was plenty of reward money should Awlaki be killed.

In September 2011, Storm says he received a message from an intermediary, who took the USB stick back to Yemen.

"I heard later....that the messenger had come to the shopping center, had the USB connector and was driven away in a Toyota Land Cruiser," Storm told Jyllens-Posten.

Three weeks later, Anwar al Awlaki was dead.

U.S. officials maintained that a separate intelligence stream had led them to Awlaki's location. Storm didn't believe them.

Falling out with the Americans

"I am convinced that the CIA seized the messenger..... but the Americans apparently won't recognize that it was an agent of PET and the small country, Denmark, which led to the detection of Anwar," Storm told Jyllands-Posten.

According to the newspaper's account, a meeting was set up at the Hotel Marienlyst in Helsingor a week after Awlaki's death in an attempt to mollify Storm. The newspaper has obtained a nine-minute recording of that meeting - made by Storm on his cell-phone.

Storm is heard talking to a man with an American accent by the name of Michael, who acknowledges Storm's work for the PET and CIA.

Read more: Official: Drone attack kills Al-Awlaki's son in Yemen

"He was my mentor. He was my sheikh, he was my teacher, he was a friend of mine. But (because) of the evil in him, I took the step," Storm told the American.

'Michael' says at one point: "I want you to understand - this is a team - it was all a team effort - a team from my organization - from me, who are here with you guys, from Jed (apparently Morten Storm's previous U.S. contact)......"

He adds that Storm's contribution was known to senior U.S. officials - adding: "I'm talking about the President of the United States. He knows you, he knows you. So the right people know your contribution. And we are grateful. "

Read more: Al-Awlaki's father denies endorsing terror

But 'Michael' maintains in the conversation that it was a parallel operation that led to locating Awlaki.

There is no way of confirming Michael's identity as a U.S. official. But in a subsequent recorded telephone conversation from August, a PET agent code-named 'Olde' said he understood Storm's frustration and would try to get him some reward money.

In a statement made Saturday to Jyllands-Posten, the head of Danish intelligence, Jakob Scharf, said: "For the sake of PET's operational work, PET cannot and will not publicly confirm whether specific individuals have been used as sources."

Read more: New al Qaeda video praises slain Yemeni-American cleric

As for Storm, he maintains a Facebook page which suggests he is living in a town in south-east England. Among the messages posted in the last few days, a link to the theme song for the new James Bond movie, with the comment: "Feels related."

According to posts on an Islamist forum in the past 24 hours, 'Murad's' former "brothers" in Luton, a town in England where he once appears to have had a business, have not forgotten him.

One wrote: "This scumbag lived in Luton and mixed with brothers for a few years and was an agent all along."

Another commented: "Murad was always a Saudi Salafy....Anyone who a had a one to one knew he was Salafy to the core."

And a note of caution from a third: "He was such a loud mouth that nobody wanted anything to do with him. He would come out with the most absurd claims."

Maybe only Michael, Jed and a few PET agents know otherwise.

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